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Matt Wellens | Duluth News Tribune | April 7, 2018

Irish, Bulldogs bring Frozen Four experience to St. Paul

Minnesota Duluth will not only bring Frozen Four experience next week to Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, but NCAA title game experience as well.

Though as Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin reminded the media Tuesday during a pre-tournament conference call, the Frozen Four will be a first for plenty of his players.

UMD is bringing back 16 from last year's squad that beat Harvard in the national semifinals before losing to Denver in the championship at United Center in Chicago.

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Only nine of the Bulldogs' 16 returnees played in that Frozen Four as the team welcomed 10 freshmen to the squad this season. With all those newcomers, Sandelin said he'll rely on veterans like senior forwards Karson Kuhlman of Esko and Jared Thomas of Hermantown to help guide the team next week.

"We're a real new team to this with all the younger players we have," said Sandelin, whose third-seeded Bulldogs (23-16-3) take on No. 1 Ohio State (26-9-5) at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 5, in the first national semifinal. "Every year is a little bit different. We're going to rely on those guys a little bit to help with that. Same time, it's pretty much a new experience for most of our guys."

The Bulldogs are one of two returnees to this year's Frozen Four along with Notre Dame, which got routed by Denver 6-1 a year ago in the national semifinals. The Fighting Irish (27-9-2), also a No. 1 seed, get No. 2 Michigan (22-14-3) in the second semifinal at 8:30 p.m. April 5.

Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said last year's Frozen Four in Chicago was "eye opening" for his players and that his team was overcome by the magnitude of the event. He returns 20 from last year's squad, including 16 who played against the Pioneers.

"It's an intimidating thing for young guys to have to go through it," Jackson said. "We go through it to a much lesser degree during the season or even during our playoffs and regionals. It's just magnified 100 times over. I thought for sure it had an impact on us last year. Denver certainly had a big impact on us as well."

Jackson said that was on him last season to not have his guys prepared for the Frozen Four. St. Paul will be his seventh Frozen Four as a coach and fourth in 13 seasons at Notre Dame. The Irish are still seeking their first NCAA title.

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"There are a lot of distractions, there are a lot of things going on that doesn't even include what they go through personally with their families and travel," said Jackson, who took Lake Superior State to three-straight Frozen Fours from 1992-94, winning two NCAA titles. "It's a much bigger thing than people expect."

Ohio State is making its second Frozen Four appearance in program history with the first coming 20 years ago.

Michigan is making its 25th Frozen Four appearance, tying Boston College for most all-time. The Wolverines most recent, however, was in 2011 when they lost the NCAA title game in overtime to UMD at Xcel Energy Center.

Current Wolverines head coach Mel Pearson, in his first season back in Ann Arbor after six seasons coaching Michigan Tech, was the associate head coach of the 2011 Wolverines. He was also an associate or assistant coach on 11 other Michigan squads to reach the Frozen Four, including two national champions.

Pearson said the biggest thing is to not blow the event out of proportion to the players.

"If you are nervous, if you're uptight, if you're scrambling, they read into that, too," Pearson said. "That's the beauty of myself and my staff. We've all been there many times and even though its in a little different role now, we understand. We've learned a lot of good lessons we can relay to our team to how we can handle it."

This article is written by Matt Wellens from Duluth News Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.